Which SEC teams are most likely to have a Mississippi State-like stumble in Week 1?
Nobody ever thinks it can happen, but then it does. And when it does, it’s ugly.
When Mississippi State fell to South Alabama last year, it was the upset of opening weekend. All of the sudden, the conversation shifted to the SEC being down. That’s what happens when a team favored to win by four touchdowns loses.
Group of 5 teams aren’t supposed to knock off SEC foes. But as we learned from Mississippi State last year, and even Kentucky, that’s not an impossible feat anymore. Arkansas and Tennessee nearly fell victim to a Group of 5 foe, as well.
So who are the most likely Group of 5 teams that could overcome a double-digit spread and knock off an SEC foe in Week 1?
3. Appalachian State vs. Georgia (-13.5)
If college football fans learned anything from the past decade, it’s that you don’t look Appalachian State in an opener. Last year, we saw just how dangerous the Mountaineers were when they pushed Tennessee to overtime in Knoxville.
They held the Vols’ stagnant ground game to just 3 yards per carry. If they somehow do that against Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, it’ll be a minor miracle.
But the Mountaineers have plenty of backfield talent themselves. They return Sun Belt Offensive MVP Jalin Moore as well as a healthy Terrence Upshaw. They also have a fifth-year starter at quarterback in Taylor Lamb.
Kirby Smart’s defense will get tested early, and if it doesn’t come out firing, the Bulldogs can ruin all of that preseason hype in a hurry.
2. South Alabama vs. Ole Miss (-24)
I mean, South Alabama did it last year. Why can’t the Jaguars pull off another SEC upset? After all that’s gone on at Ole Miss this offseason, it wouldn’t be shocking if the Rebels looked a bit unfocused in the opener. There’s no bowl game to play for, and a lot of Ole Miss’ talent is young.
People might also forget that South Alabama beat a very solid San Diego State squad a few weeks later. South Alabama wasn’t exactly a giant slayer, but it showed it could take down teams with better athletes.
So why is Ole Miss still such a big favorite? Well, returning just 10 starters has something to do with that. The fact that the Jaguars still only finished 2-6 in the Sun Belt Conference certainly played a part in that spread, too.
But the Jaguars are solid up front, and they could present problems for an Ole Miss offensive line that struggled to protect the quarterback last year. The line looks better and deeper than it was last year.
Still, don’t be surprised if this one gets a little too close for comfort.
1. Kentucky (-10.5) vs. Southern Mississippi
Yes, the team most likely to lose to a Group of 5 foe is the squad that did so last year. At home. This time, they’ll square off in Hattiesburg, Miss. Yes, Kentucky is supposed to be an improved team with so much talent returning. Nobody is expecting this year’s squad to get outscored 27-0 in the second half against a Group of 5 team.
But crazier things have happened.
Kentucky still has to try and find a way to shut down Southern Mississippi tailback Ito Smith, who racked up 213 yards from scrimmage in their meeting last year. Smith and George Payne both ran for triple digits against a Kentucky run defense that ranked 110th in FBS. On top of that, Mark Stoops said that he’ll have plenty of freshmen on the field Saturday. He said that isn’t because of injuries, but the Wildcats did lose two offensive starters in fall camp.
This one could come down to what both teams are able to do in the passing game. We don’t know who the Golden Eagles will start at quarterback, but we know they’ll be inexperienced.
How does Kentucky game plan to shut down an unknown? And how do the Wildcats handle increased preseason expectations?
Kentucky has been getting plenty of sleeper buzz, but if the Wildcats sleepwalk through another second half, they could be looking at an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Golden Eagles.